Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
2012 (2009): 8 out of 10: I love disaster movies. I love “good” disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. I love “bad” disaster movies such as The Swarm and Independence Day. I even enjoy, if not love, “Horrible” disaster movies such as Syfy channel stalwarts Megafault and Magma: Volcanic Disaster.
2012 is solidly in the “good” disaster movie genre. As I have stated before in my The Core Review, “Disaster movies always seem to do better when the disaster is local in scope. A city threatened by an avalanche, a tower threatened by an inferno, a Poseidon threatened by an adventure, that kind of thing. Earth killer movies are always a harder road.”
2012 dodges this bullet slightly by having neutrinos from a massive solar flare penetrate the Earth and cause the temperature of the core to increase rapidly. “Like a microwave,” one scientist helpfully explains. Why these same neutrinos don’t cause the oceans to boil is a plot hole that the movie delightfully ignores. Still compared to The Core or The Day after Tomorrow, 2012’s science is practically textbook.
Now, since the core is expanding, this causes the earth’s crust to erupt in different directions (think a Jiffy Pop container). This allows disaster footage from all over the earth. And we all know where disasters strike first. That’s right monuments. Vegas, Washington DC, Vatican City, Los Angeles, Yellowstone, Hawaii, and others get their turn in the special effects blender. The set pieces are generally well thought out, often with sly commentary attached. (A giant rolling donut in LA, A slick atheist “Where is your God now” rub at the Vatican.). The special effects are all magnificent.
I will briefly talk about the actors in a minute (Generally speaking they all do fine) but the star is the effects. The detail work (as can be seen in the disaster porn pictures below) is simply amazing. Director Roland Emmerich puts his 250 million dollar budget on the screen. For once, the buildings that collapse have people in them. The disasters do not happen in the rain or at night, and the camera doesn’t jerk around as if directed by an epileptic sugar glider.
Both the location work and the disasters are very creative. (Let’s face it, a tsunami driving an aircraft carrier into the White House is imagination at work.) Also, the story is a fairly grounded version of that old When Worlds Collide plot where all the smart, rich and good-looking people get on a spaceship and escape Earth while all the less attractive people all die horribly.
The movie halfheartedly tries to address the unfairness of “who gets chosen” but we really didn’t come for a civics lesson and honestly there are worse ways to go than just picking attractive rich people. (Outside of the excessive amount of sociopaths.) We also didn’t come for the acting, but unlike many of its contemporaries, the acting in 2012 seems solid across the board.
Some various side plots fall a little flat (for example, taking into consideration 2012’s two-and-a-half hour length, the old guys on the boat subplot should have been jettisoned in its entirety.) On the plus side, Zlatko Buric as the Russian billionaire ex-boxer and Woody Harrelson as the crazy mountain man (doing his best Matthew McConaughey impression, mind you) are the standouts among an above-average cast.
Overall, we came for the disaster porn and simply put 2012 delivers some of the best disaster porn ever seen on screen and manages this feat with fewer of the bad acting and horrible storyline distractions that usually accompany such films. Bravo.